Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chicago Botanic Gardens in Summer

Skokie River at Sunset at the Chicago Botanic Gardens
The Chicago Botanic Gardens is one of my favorite places, year round. Not only is it a great place for beautifully designed gardens and gorgeous plants, but it's also a great place for birding and wildlife. There are two reconstructed natural areas, a small woodlands (McDonald Woods) and an extremely nice prairie (Dixon Prairie), which provide a nice habitat for natives. The lake, which is really part of the Skokie Lagoons system, is a rest area for all sorts of migrant waterfowl in spring and fall.

But mid to late summer would be my favorite time to visit- July, August, September. The gardens are in full bloom, the lily pad pools are filled with gorgeous tropical waterlilies, butterflies and other insects make for a macro shooting haven, tired parent birds are seen being mobbed by their hungry fledglings, and hummingbirds dash and chase each other in fights over feeding grounds.

A Song Sparrow Sings in Dixon Prairie in July

The water lily pools in the Heritage Garden are great for getting amazing shots of waterlilies. To me, they often seem to look like they're lit from within.

Tropical Waterlily

Red Flare Night-blooming Waterlily

The pools at the Heritage Garden have another added benefit... the stepped design of the fountains make for a great birdbath!

"Well, helllooo there, ladies!"

A female House Sparrow looks at her reflection
A Goldfinch takes a Bath

A soggy male House Sparrow

The lake also has some great spots where waterlilies and lotus grow. I especially tend to like the large stretches of lotus growing by the shorelines.


Hummingbirds become most active in August and September as they finish their breeding season and gear up for a long migration south. Territorial, you'll often see them chasing each other off as they try to guard "their" nectar patch.

The best place to look for hummingbirds is the English Oak Meadow, which in late summer is filled with zinnias, russian sage, and anise scented sage.

A female on guard for interlopers as she rests in a tree

Anise-scented Sage is a favorite nectar source

Oh dear, hope it isn't stuck

A dance with a Zinnia

If the English Oak Meadow doesn't turn up any hummingbirds, head over the evaluation gardens. Currently there's an ongoing evaluation study on Butterfly Bushes, which draws the hummers. Additionally, there was a large strand of Cardinal Flowers this year that drew hummingbirds like a magnet.

A hummingbird feeds on a butterfly bush

A hummingbird feeding on cardinal flower

The butterfly bushes have another nice draw-- butterflies!

A hungry Monarch feeding on a butterfly bush

The butterfly this summer had been spectacular. The tally this year includes Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Question Marks, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, Mourning Cloaks, Red Spotted Purples, Viceroys, little Blues, and Skippers

Another Tiger Swallowtail
A slightly tattered Red Spotted Purple
A Mourning Cloak
Red Admiral

Female Tiger Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

A Viceroy

A large amount of insects make for good macro shooting. Bees, wasps, ants, dragonflies, moths, spiders, beetles... keep your eyes open and you'll see them.

Orb Weaver Spider

A Hungry Bumblebee
A Webworm Moth

Goldfinches are out in force, feeding on coneflower and sunflower seeds. It's not uncommon to see a parent being mobbed by its nearly grown offspring, likely the last brood of the year.

A male Goldfinch on Coneflower
Daddy Goldfinch gathering seeds for his hungry fledglings

It's also a good time of the year to spot Cardinals and their fledglings.

Daddy Cardinal feeding his fledgling

I'd recommend the Chicago Botanic Gardens to anyone. Entrance is free, though it's going to cost you $20 to park if your not a member. If you think you might go often, the membership is worth it just to get the free parking.

It's a very nice place to spend the day with your camera, grab lunch (the cafe is very very good), and generally have a good time in a beautiful setting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mrs. Raccoon Hanging Out

Literally, that is.

I've been working my way through a 10,000 photo backlog for post processing. I'm currently sloughing my way through shots from late May. I captured this shot at North Park Nature Center on a hot day... I'm guessing it was a bit hot in that tree hole and she was getting some air.

I'm speculating, but I think she had her cubs in there, so she wasn't willing to leave. A week or so before, I took a series of shots of a very pregnant female raiding the garbage cans by the picnic tables.

Masked Trashcan Raiding Bandit
Seriously, she's a stereotype of a raccoon!
But they sure are pretty animals

I can't say for sure it's the same coon, but my guess is that it probably is. I think she'd had her babies in the tree, and was probably hanging out of the tree to cool down and get some air.

If it was or wasn't, both encounters were pretty cool, and I got some nice shots.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Caspian Terns

For the last few weeks there's been a small ternery of Caspian Terns resting at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. If you keep your eyes open, you might see one fly by just about anywhere on the grounds. They're a white, gull-like bird with a black cap and a very large orange beak.

If you want to see some for sure, head to the far end of the prairie. The drainage pond on the southwest edge isn't pretty to look at (being a drainage pond and not part of the maintained lagoon system, there tends to be a lot of garbage washed into it), but it's usually a great place for birds. This pond was the home to a group of Northern Shovelers earlier this spring, and besides the Terns and some gulls, currently has several Blue-winged Teals hanging out in it.

The ternery (yes, a group of terns is called a ternery) is about 20-30 birds, I'd guess.

Some of the Ternery
Caspian Tern

With a yummy fish

Caspian Tern

The terns mainly catch fish by aerial dive, and if your lucky you may get there when the terns have found a school of fish and go into a diving frenzy. I got to witness this when I first saw these guys. Really cool to see.

Diving Terns

Shaking off excess water

Another tern with a yummy fish

This fellow was trying to eat his fish as he flew away


Looking for fish to dive for
Awww... all that hardwork and he dropped his fish!

I'm hoping to get better shots when the light is a little less harsh, but I am pretty happy that I managed to get what I got.

Caspian Tern